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ENOUGH!! November 27, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

Something’s got to give, and now.

For the second consecutive Saturday night, the Capitals have visited a team with more than half a dozen AHL call-ups on the roster, and for the second consecutive Saturday night, they’ve gotten destroyed. This less than 24 hours after getting doubled up, 6-3, by a Rangers team that had not scored that many goals all season. And let’s not forget that godawful Dallas game, which yielded a bag skate the next day.

It hasn’t gotten through. If the results on the ice don’t tell you that, Joel Ward’s oversleeping and missing a team meeting should. This team is not getting it.

Before I go one word further: I write this next not out of anger or disgust, but out of a profound sadness that a team this talented could play this badly.

Before this season got started, I predicted that the Capitals would win the Stanley Cup. The talent is certainly still there for that, but the effort, clearly, is not there at this point.

Being diplomatic isn’t working, so I’m going to be blunt.

Those fools have absolutely no idea how lucky they are. And the rank ingratitude that is on full display, from the top to the bottom of the roster, is the stuff of which severe spiritual consequences are made. Never mind the hockey: at this rate, I’m beginning to have serious concerns for the players’ well-being off the ice.

Because they evidently don’t know how good they’ve got it. Not to get too current-events-y here, but with the economy this bad, unemployment this high, gas and food prices on the rise, and hard times being felt all across America, those ingrates out to be ashamed that they’re being paid more money than some Americans will see in their lives, to play a game, and yet go through the motions like they don’t give a rat’s ass.

Professional athletes sometimes get a bad rap for making a lot of money for what is, essentially, entertainment, while less glamorous professions with more visible “worth” to those on the outside make less. I categorically reject the proposition that there is no worth in sports. Sports bring people together in ways other subjects do not; and most teams are doing much more in their communities than just walking onto the field of play, doing their jobs, and going home. If you think sports are meaningless, ask a business owner in downtown Baltimore how their summers have been going the last few years, now that the Orioles are perpetual doormats. For that matter, just look around Chinatown right here in DC. Sports matter, and they can also be a force for good, even if that good is a bit less apparent to outsiders.

That said, when athletes act so neglectfully on their chosen fields of play, that kind of “spoiled athletes” criticism is bound to come up. It has to, and frankly, it should.

Right now, there are more than eight million Americans who are settling for part-time work, because they can’t get full-time work. Nearly 5.9 million Americans have been out of work for more than six months. The Capitals? Under contract, thank you very much, and most of them would have little trouble finding work elsewhere should their services be dispensed with in Washington.

Those men are some of the luckiest men alive, but they play as if they couldn’t care less. That sort of ingratitude has consequences which go beyond merely what you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Which is to say, there are spiritual consequences that can come of this.

But there are some very mundane consequences which need to take place forthwith.

I doubt I’m the first to propose either of these next two ideas, but here are my takes on them.

Should Ovechkin be stripped of his captaincy?
My take: Ovechkin arguably hasn’t been leading by example. Seeing his team fall behind by more than one goal ought to be getting #8 so single-mindedly incensed that he should be giving opposing netminders a sunburn for all the red lights behind them. It’s just not happening.

Now, there could be any number of reasons for this. In his defense, one can argue that perhaps Ovechkin is trying too hard to single-handedly save his team; that perhaps he’s taking the team’s failures as his own personal failures, is quietly suffering behind the scenes as a result, and it’s dragging down his game; and so on. Ovechkin knows that as long as he’s got the C, the Caps are his team. And I think he cares about the team’s results so much that that may be what’s got him off his game.

Ovechkin has said, several times, that the only honors he wants are team honors: gold medals for Russia, Stanley Cups (that’s plural for a reason!) for the Capitals. I’m not so sure he’s worried about his personal numbers at this point. More than likely, he’s seeing his team in a tailspin, and that is what’s contributing to his “Alexander the Pretty Good” level of play as of late.

But it’s because of that care level, that I think he should consider relinquishing the C. Perhaps, if he no longer has to worry about the entire team as a whole, he can focus on once again being “Alexander the Gr8.” The Capitals won’t go very far anytime soon if Ovechkin isn’t playing like the superstar the Capitals are paying him to be.

Perhaps it’s time for Ovechkin to engage in some Randian selfishness. Perhaps, if he were turned loose to be the great individual player that history has shown him to be, then he and the team might both end up the better for it.

Granted, it wouldn’t be quite as historic if we one day heard Gary Bettman saying, for instance, “Jeff Halpern, come get the Stanley Cup.” But who gets to be first to lift the Stanley Cup is immaterial if the Caps can’t win it to begin with. And whether or not they can do that, my September guess notwithstanding, looks like it’s starting to go from “probable” to “questionable.”

Bottom line: I think everyone–players, coaches, front office, and not the least Ovechkin himself–needs to consider very carefully whether or not his continued captaincy serves the best interests of all concerned, not the least of which being Ovechkin’s interests. Can he lead this team? Or are the extra leadership duties becoming such a burden that they now need to be rested on other, less vexed, shoulders? I want the Caps, and Mr. Ovechkin, to do what’s right for all concerned here; they know better than I do how this sort of decision will play out behind the scenes. But if giving away the C would get Ovechkin back in Art Ross form, and the team as a whole in President’s Trophy form, then perhaps Ovechkin may need to step down–for both his own good, and the good of the team. If, despite the public doubts and questioning he’s been receiving of late, he retains the C, his performance must improve. Must.

Should Bruce Boudreau be fired?
My take: The answer is not as simple as my snapshot postgame tweet.

This, frankly, is an excruciating question, one that has no easy answer. Up until now, Coach Boudreau has won championships at every level at which he’s coached. He’s gotten to 200 career NHL wins in almost historically short order, and he’s got a Jack Adams trophy on his mantel for a reason. Simply put, Bruce Boudreau knows how to win hockey games.

But the question that has to be asked is, Can he win the games that matter, with the players he now has?

We know the players have enough talent to win important games. We also know that Coach Boudreau has a history of winning important games.

But can they do so together? Can this coach lead these players, and can these players follow this coach?

It’s beginning to look less and less likely. If a bag skate isn’t enough to motivate his players, what else can he do? Has Coach Boudreau simply run out of cards to play at this point?

I would hope not, and nothing would make me happier than to see Coach Boudreau figure out which metaphorical buttons to push, to get the Capitals playing like the championship-caliber team he’s shown he knows how to coach, to right the ship, and to be handed the Stanley Cup by one of the Capitals when it’s all said and done.

But is that possible?

That’s something that can’t be answered by a spare-time hockey blogger with a complete lack of hockey fashion sense: that really does have to be addressed internally. Perhaps Coach Boudreau really can right the ship; then, we can look back at the end of this season and say that this stretch didn’t kill him, so it made him stronger.

Coaches shouldn’t be dismissed for transient reasons. Even more so, coaches with winning records with their teams. Even further so, coaches who’ve guided their teams to record finishes. Even beyond that, coaches who’ve won multiple consecutive division titles. Coach Boudreau has done a lot of winning here in Washington. One month ago to the day of the Buffalo game, the Capitals were the last undefeated team in the NHL at 7-0-0. Just over three weeks ago, the Capitals’ record stood at 10-2-0. Yes, it’s fallen drastically in the past 22 days, but should a horrible three weeks suddenly mean the end of four very good years of Capitals hockey?

The bottom line: The more I think about this, the more I think Coach Boudreau needs to be given a few more games to see what strategies he’s got left. But if mid-December gets here, and the Caps are still losing, then perhaps these players and this coach really don’t match, and it may be time to thank Coach Boudreau for his services and part ways. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the bench boss that has to coach against him if he’s ever on the visitor’s bench at Verizon Center. So, in my view, give him a little more time; just not so much that the season is beyond recovery.

Of note, the Capitals have announced that the next practice will be Monday. I’ll be keeping an eye on washingtoncaps.com on Sunday, I guess.

This losing cannot, and must not, continue. Whatever the Caps need to do, they need to make it stop. Now.




1. Ray in Bowie (@Fools_RushL_in) - November 27, 2011

It’s too late. Gabby must go.

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